Interview: “Catch a Rising Star” Kimberly Suskind from “JOHN AND JEN”

Hammonton, NJ‘s Eagle Theatre brings in one of their favorite talents to star in Off Broadway’s “John and Jen”, a musical journey about a family’s strengths, weaknesses, hopes, failures and redemption.

Playing John is another Eagle favorite Adam Hoyak and Jen is played by Kimberly Suskind. We are spotlighting Kimberly who is no stranger to the Eagle Theatre having been part of 7 Eagle productions including Godspell, Heathers! The Musical, Beehive: The Musical and The Civil War.

Kimberly is far from a novice to the stage with a long resume of singing, acting and dancing in local and regional productions include Young Frankenstein (Elizabeth Benning), Burt and Me (Lacey) at the Delaware Theater Company and one of four productions at the Theater Barn in New York.

I caught up with Kimberly after the Eagle opening of John & Jen; the 1995 Off Broadway musical written by Broadway’s Andrew Lippa.

Pati Buehler: Kimberly, please shed some light on this emotional story and how did you prepare for the role?

Kimberly Suskind: This role is so incredibly special to me! I fell in love with John & Jen in college and could never get through the cast recording without tearing up. It’s such a beautiful story that everyone can relate to in some way. The relationships between two family members, whether it be brother and sister, mother and son, or any other combination, is often full of tension, affection, and most importantly, unconditional love. As far as preparing for the role, other than learning the extensive music and dialogue, I was fascinated by documentaries on the two sides of the Vietnam War and researching the 1960s counter culture. I love an opportunity to research and becoming more familiar with different time periods!

Kimberly’s bio reveals that she was singing at 18 months old and dancing by 3. Seems like she never stopped! Please tell where you call home and what was your family life all about?

KS: It’s true! Once I started, I was hooked forever. I’m very lucky to say, both of my parents were incredibly supportive of my career choice and helped me achieve everything I set out to do. My mother took me to infinite auditions, dance classes and rehearsals. I’m grateful every day that she believed in me and was will to give so much of her own time. My 14 year old little sister, Kayci, has the theatre bug too! My two brothers, Kayci’s twin, Tyler, and my older brother, Matt, have their own interests and specials skills. I actually spent my childhood moving about every two years, a corporate brat, some might say. I’ve lived in 9 states, all over the country, and went to eleven schools. I usually say I’m from Seattle, as that’s where I attended high school. My family now resides in beautiful southern Florida.

Kimberly earned her BFA in Musical Theater at the Boston Conservatory where she was awarded the Sue Ronson Levy Tap Scholarship. In addition to rigorous training in acting and dancing, her special skills include dialects in British, Cockney, Irish, New York, Southern and Jewish Grandmother! Having seen this delightful always smiling young actress in several productions I’d love to see you cast in a show requiring a Jewish Grandmother! Have you had the opportunity to use any of these ‘special talents’?

KS: I’m laughing out loud about that one! My lovely grandma, Sheila Cohen, is the inspiration as my quintessential Jewish grandmother and I have spent my lifetime trying to emulate her fabulous Brooklyn-born accent! She loves to have me “Do my voice!” in front of her friends. Why not throw in something to add a little humor to a resume? That being said, unfortunately, I’m never asked to portray a role that requires it. I’m still holding out hope! I have been able to use some other dialects, mostly southern and British.

PB: What do you hope the audience of John and Jen take away from this show?

KS: I hope the audience will leave the theatre thinking, “Wow, I need to call my family.” Our director, Ted Wioncek III, has found every touching and heartfelt moment the script has to offer. It’s so rewarding to work with someone who can read between the lines and lyrics to extract beautiful hidden meaning. I hope the production will warm the hearts of our audiences and encourage them to experience rarely produced musicals and plays! There are some hidden gems out there, and this is one of them!

Kimberly and Adam will appear in JOHN and JEN at The Eagle Theatre, 208 Vine St. Hammonton, NJ on selected dates through April 9. For tickets and information: visit www.eagletheatre.org or call 609.704.5012 For more information about Kimberly Suskind visit www.kimberlysuskind.com

Photo # 1 Kim in Eagle’s Beehive: The Musical-Photo credit: Chris Miller

Photo # 2 Adam Hoyak (John) and Kimberly Suskind (Jen) in “John and Jen”- Photo credit: Chris Miller

Photo # 3 Kim ( Elizabeth Benning) “Young Frankenstein, Barn Theater – Photo credit: A. Phelps

Interview: Jim Owen of the “Classical Mystery Tour”


The Classic Mystery Tour joins the Philly Pops “Tribute to the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Album”.

Philly celebrates the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album” with a special concert performance on Feb. 3, 4, 5.

I caught up with Jim Owen who performs the role of John Lennon as well as guitar, keyboard and vocals with the Classical Mystery Tour to see what the excitement is all about. Jim was born and raised in California and grew up with a rich musical background.

Pati Buehler: Your father was a great influence on you musically. What did you glean from him and what music did you play prior to your interest in the Beatles?

Jim Owen: Simply being around music so much at home from a very early age,
being exposed to mostly classical music playing on the home stereo, and also played on the piano by my father. Then my father’s sister moved out to help take care of the kids and she also played piano, and brought Beatles records with her. I was about 7 years old when she played “Meet the Beatles” for us kids (in 1973—The Beatles had already broken up). So now I wanted to learn guitar to play their music, so my dad taught me the basics on a nylon string acoustic guitar. The rest was by ear by listening to Beatles records over and over. My dad also encouraged me to continue piano study, which I’d started at age 6, and to enter piano recitals and competitions. He definitely encouraged me to aim high in artistry, citing examples of Horowitz and Rubinstein frequently.

PB: When, how did the group form and where did you perform prior to your Symphony work?

JO: I played in various bands since about 11 years old starting with friends at school — Beatles music only! — and then continued through the high school years by entering sound alike contests at Beatles Fan events, then began working with some Beatlemania cast members shortly after graduating high school. We traveled far and wide playing as a 4-member Beatles Tribute band, always utilizing keyboards or backing tracks to fill in many of the more complicated Beatles songs. I suppose due to my exposure and attending classical and pops concerts when I was young, I thought it would be great to use real orchestral musicians to back our group. It took a year to put it all together and our first show was in 1996.

PB: There have been Beatles Tribute bands since the 80’s namely BEATLEMANIA, RAIN to name just two. You all seem to have “Beatle camaraderie” with one another to the point that you often ‘fill in’ when needed. I personally know Graham Alexander who played Paul with RAIN on Broadway. Do you all keep tabs on one another and have a schedule as to who’s performing and who’s available?

JO: We are mostly very friendly with each other, with very few exceptions, so if we need a fill in we simply call and ask availability. Graham has filled in for us on a handful of shows, and I think he is one of the best out there!

PB: I agree… What a talented ‘young’ man!

PB: The Beatles themselves quit touring in 1966. The pioneering, intricate recordings from Sergeant Pepper through Abbey Road were never performed live by the group. Much has happened technically since then. How exciting is it to play these songs live? What are the challenges?

JO: I’ll never forget the first time standing on stage with a full symphony orchestra and hearing “I Am the Walrus,” “The Long and Winding Road,” etc.—What an amazing experience! We try to be as authentic as possible in our Beatles character and musical representations, so it was nice to hear from orchestra members that they felt performing with us was like doing the original sessions at Abbey Road studio! The main challenge is obtaining and mixing the sound for the audience. Lots of work goes into mic’ing the band and orchestra and making a mix to sound as much like the original recordings as possible. Vocal effects are one of the fun aspects; for example the delay on John Lennon’s voice in “A Day in the Life” which we can recreate live using today’s technology.

PB: In 1996 you found someone in California to help you write out all the charts, scores and parts for the orchestra. How was that received with your first orchestral booking? And the Audience?

JO: Transcribing all the music for full orchestra was quite an undertaking, and it was a good thing we had nearly a year to prepare. Martin Herman, Bruce Miller, and one other gentleman whose name I can’t remember did the charts, but Martin rewrote more authentically the scores by the others, so the charts are all his ultimately. The first-ever concert in 1996 was very well received by the audience in attendance, and also thankfully by newspaper reviewers!

 

PB: It seems most Beatles tribute groups are playing this wonderful music for many years. We hope you all will play this for the next generation of Beatles fans. How long will you play “Strawberry Fields Forever” ?!

JO: I hope our show will continue as long as there are orchestras to perform with. I’ll certainly go as long as I can; I still love the music as much as ever, and it actually seems to get better and better with time.

For  Philly Pops Tickets and Information: Visit www.phillypops.org.

For more information about Jim and the Classical Mystery Tour visit: www.classicalmysterytour.com

Photo Credits: Courtesy Jim Owen

Interview with Ellie Mooney: Walnut’s Wicked Witch!

ellie-facebook-witch-shotEllie Mooney will be flying high and wreaking havoc in the Land of Oz.

Ellie Mooney is an actor, director, choreographer and teaching artist and one of Philly’s “go to actors” for superb talent.

I caught up with Ellie as she prepares for the role most children (and adults) remember fondly in the beloved production THE WIZARD OF OZ. The Walnut Street Theater is proudly opening their 208 th theater season with this family classic.

Pati Buehler: OK, I am already excited about this production and can’t imagine a role more fun than the Wicked Witch of the West. Tell us about that journey from going out for the role and what you plan to bring to the stage.

Ellie Mooney: I’m thrilled to be playing this role and being evil is indeed fun! However there is a learning curve: Flying, pyrotechnics, and of course melting all take quite a bit of finessing. The wicked part comes a bit more naturally! (lol) I have a team of professionals training me in the art of evil and I’m excited to share it with the WST audiences.

Ellie’s resume is longer than her arms! This 5’2”- 100 llb. dynamo has played many ellie-amadeaus-2versatile roles both regionally and off Broadway such as Sister Mary Martin-of Tours in SISTER ACT, Constanze in AMADEUS, Hope in URINETOWN and also appeared in the popular FORBIDDEN BROADWAY Comedy Review as Barbara Streisand and Bebe Neuwirth to name a few.

PB: Can you possible pick some favorite roles and what made them so special?

ellie-rise-and-fall-of-little-voiceEM: My favorites change often…. But I’d have to say I loved playing LV in THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE at WST. I spent a year training my voice to mimic all the famous singers in the show. It was a huge challenge and I’m so grateful for having the opportunity to play a dream role.

As many actors have gratefully expressed “Philly has been good to me” and Ellie has sure had her share of ‘goodness’ in the City of Brotherly Love. Some of her recent Walnut Street Theatre highlights include: RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE (Little Voice), A CHRISTMAS STORY (Miss Shields), HARVEY (Myrtle Mae), MARY POPPINS (Mrs. Corry), FANCY NANCY (Director/Choreographer), and I LOVE A PIANO (Director/Choreographer)

“Ellie Mooney is one of the best choreographers I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Her work is not only vibrant, eye-popping and at a Broadway level, but she manages to tell a complete story thoroughly with each number, paying close attention to character and situation. Her work is incredibly inventive, delightfully unpredictable…” ~Chris Faith (Actor) THE DROWSY CHAPERONEellie-drowsey-chaparone

PB: No doubt you are grateful with the many accolades from fellow artists. You will have the pleasure of assuming the role of Director/Choreographer of Walnut Street’s upcoming A CHRISTMAS CAROL in the midst of playing the Witch in Oz! Please tell us about this project.

EM: Our Christmas Carol is adapted by WST favorite Bill Van Horn – and it’s a cherished theatre event for WST audiences every year. It’s a family favorite!

PB: It’s obvious that you are an actor who loves to keep busy. Tell us about your work as a teaching artist, please.

EM: I’m grateful for opportunities to empower other artists. The WST Theatre School provides a great platform for new artists as well as seasoned professionals. I specialize in audition techniques for singers and dancers. I help them navigate the sometimes confusing and always exciting audition processes.

See Ellie Moony haunt Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and all of OZ in Walnut Street’s upcoming production of The Wizard of OZ opening on November 8 and playing through January 8, 2017.

For ticket and information visit: www.walnutstreettheatre.org or call 215.574.3550
For more about Ellie Mooney visit her website at www.elliemooney.com

Photos: Ellie Mooney (AMADEUS),  (Little Voice),  (The Drowsey Chaparone)

Interview with Philly’s Tom and Kelly McCarthy and “The King of East Jabip”


The McCarthy family proving you’re never too old to create some magic!

Kelly-Tom-McCarthyActor Tom McCarthy, 80 and his daughter/ playwright Kelly, 50 seem to be getting their second wind as they both decide to revisit their creative talents by writing and starring in their very own first play, The King of East Jabip which will premiere at the Eagle Theatre, Hammonton, NJ.

Thomas J. McCarthy was born on June 23, 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. He is an actor, known for films such as Mannequin (1987), Fallen (1998) and Blow Out (1981) and received the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. He was also awarded the Barrymore Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play in 1997 for playing Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” at Arden Theatre Company.

I caught up with the McCarthy family for more insight into what lead to this joint
venture. Tom’s daughter explains the process. “My dad wanted me to write a play with a character that would be around his age,” explained Kelly McCarthy. “He was interested in a character that he felt still had things in life he wanted to do and didn’t want to give up just because he was older.”

Tom McCarthy is no stranger to Philadelphia and its rich theater history. As Tom Girl With Silver Eyesexplained in an earlier interview; “You can live in Philadelphia, own your home, have your family. If you are working for one of the bigger theaters, you can do theater at night, make a decent living and be at home by 11 o’clock having a beer on your porch.” – Philly Voice Interview.

According to Urban dictionary the term “East Jabip “is a slang word for a ‘fictitious, inconveniently located place in the middle of nowhere’.

Please tell us why you call this piece “The King of East Jabip”.


Kelly's PhotoKelly McCarthy: Dad’s character is secure in his own home in Philly where he is the ‘king’ of his castle, so to speak. When his wife wants to move to a suburb he feels he will lose his ‘kingly reign’ of everything he’s familiar with and is not ready for the uncertainty of all of this.

Kelly relates the writing process; “It started with me writing about a husband and a wife,” said Kelly McCarthy. “At some point when I was writing it, I felt there was something wrong with this man and I didn’t know what it was. There was some issue he was dealing with; it wasn’t just that he felt he hadn’t done enough in his life. I don’t know how it evolved, but I realized the character had Alzheimer’s. So, this is a man who still wants to do things and he’s just found out that pretty soon he’s going to have a hard time accomplishing some goals he always wanted. He has a sense of urgency.”

Pati Buehler: Tom, at the young age of 80, how do you relate to the character you portray and do you dare I say, think about your own eventuality during this portrayal?

Tom McCarthy: My daughter wanted to write a play for me because she knows me better than almost anyone. She captures my personality in a way that made me feel very close to this character. Honestly, I’m too busy to ever think about my own eventuality!
KING_OF_EAST_318McCarthy, from Sea Isle City, spent 15 years as a professional journalist in a career that began with the Main Line Times, covering Philadelphia’s historic Main Line region. . Following in his footsteps, Kelly began acting at age 4, building a resume that includes stage and television credits. She thought about writing a play many times, but never got around to doing it until her father got a grant for his daughter to write a play for him to act in. The play started out with just the husband and wife. It received a reading at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia where Kelly received important feedback. She let their advice sink in and took a break from the play for a while. When she returned to it, she heard the voice of a daughter for the first time. The third character helped her round out the story.

Eagle Theatre has helped assist Kelly McCarthy in several workshops, drafts, and staged readings of play, including a public reading at their New Works Development Series. The play will be presented September 9 to October 9 at the Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, NJ — the first world premiere production in the theatre’s history!  For tickets to The King of East Jabip visit www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012

Photos : Kelly & Tom McCarthy ( photo by Barbara McCarthy) , Tom McCarthy and Grace Gonglewski in Walnut Street’s Production “The Girl With the Silver Eyes”,(photo courtesy Kelly McCarthy) “King of East Jabip” photo courtesty of The Eagle Theatre

SOUTH JERSEY STAGEWORKS PRESENTS “ANYTHING GOES” WITH LOCAL ARTIST ALIX VITARELLI

Anytihing Goes LogoTake 7 days of rehearsals and a talented young cast and … Anything Goes.

It’s a family affair theater company with the focus on young artists and the Gibbins family; all 5 of them are deeply passionate about keeping this all about the kids.

The creative team consists of Nancy Gibbins (Founder/Director), husband David (co-founder/Music Director), son Michael Gibbins (Director), daughter Emma Gibbins (Director/ Music Director) and daughter Julia Gibbins (Choreographer).

The story line for this 1930’s famous Cole Porter musical is in place. A nightclub
Reno and Billysinger, Reno Sweeney (Sarah Todd), was once an evangelist but has, shall we say, switched careers. Billy Crocker (Zach BillyTaglioli) is a hustler who is connected to a Wall Street type, Elisha J. Whitney (Kahlil Wyatt). Also aboard the ocean liner where virtually all of the action occurs is Hope Harcourt (Alix Vitarelli), engaged to Brit Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Mike Dugger). Her mother, Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt (Alexis Rodriguez), is another one traveling from New York City to England. Moonface Martin (Kirk Slingluff), Public Enemy Number 13 but that number could drop, is evading the FBI; hence, he is disguised as a member of the clergy. He and Erma (Sara Rabatin) have mutual, um, interest and the mad capped fun begins.

Ensamble Anthing GoesA talented cast ages 16 to 26 rarely miss a line, a dance move or a comedic opportunity. This is fine example of Community Theater with a modest budget at its best! Performing at the Pine Hill NJ Middle school stage, which is fairly huge, with homemade sets that are clever and functional and this troupe puts in a delightful “De-Lovely” performance. Todd’s Reno is simply impressive with powerful vocals and Tagliloli is terrific as Billy! Their duet “You’re the Top” is top notch. Erma’s “Buddie, Beware” is a surprising delight and Moonface & Reno’s “Friendship” is a scene stealer. The ensemble cast is equally up for the challenge as they accompany Reno with a rousing “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and of course “Anything Goes”.

We’d like to spotlight Alix Vitarelli who plays Hope Harcourt. This young local South Jersey talent has certainly done her personal ‘due diligence’ in the world of musical theater.
Pati Buehler: Alix, you obviously got the ‘theatrical’ bug early in life. Tell us about Headshotwhen you knew you wanted to pursue this choice and who has helped you along the way.

Alix Vitarelli: I started doing theatre in elementary school and I always felt like the stage is where I belonged. I did competitive cheerleading for 10 years, and danced for 5 years when I was young so I never really had to ease myself into performing for people. Stage fright was a short lived concept for me. I knew this was something I definitely wanted to continue doing (on a grander scale than my 6th grade production of “Alice in Wonderland”) once I started branching out and doing shows in the community in the beginning of college. I have to say that in a way I’ve been spoiled with support, so when I did decide to really delve into theatre, my family provided so many resources for me to succeed; everything from my Mom-mom Chris being my rehearsal accompanist before auditions, to my Aunt Linda sending me to NYC Masterclasses, or my Mom-mom Phyllis sending me to voice lessons. I have such an incredible support system and that isn’t always the case for people who say to their family “Hey, I think I want to be an actress.”

Alix attends Rowan University where she is actively involved in their arts programs. Among her many local theater credits are playing the lead role of Millie Dillmont in Hammonton Theater Arts production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Claudia in “Nine”. In addition Alix has been involved in choreography and stage directing in local children’s productions including Stageworks productions.

PB: With a total of 7 years of vocal training and 5 years of dance it’s plain to see you have been serious about your goals. What advice can you give young people who are hoping to follow a career in the arts?

AV: All those years of training sound scary and intense, but not once have I felt like I was doing this because I had to. I have loved every second of it, because it’s my passion, and if it’s your passion too, you have to go for it. Now, I’m not saying the first time you hear “Defying Gravity” and love it you should buy a train ticket move to New York… But if you have a passion for theatre, music, or any of the arts…pursue it! Don’t be discouraged by people telling you no. That’s the big thing. So many people will tell you no, but you have to take that “no” and let it push you to prove them wrong. Also, please don’t ever tell yourself that you’re done learning…We are never finished learning!! Work hard for it, and if it’s really what you love, it won’t feel like work at all.

PB: What are you currently focusing on and where do you hope to see yourself in the future?

AV: Right now I’m pretty focused on finishing up my degree at Rowan. I’m a senior in the Music Education program with a concentration in Vocal Performance. People always wonder why I don’t major in Musical Theatre, and I’m constantly reminding my family that teaching is another passion of mine. I want to provide all of my students with the same love for music and the arts that was instilled in me in school. If it wasn’t for my music teachers growing up, I wouldn’t have discovered my real passion for performing, and I want to be able to do that for my students. Other than school, I’m constantly auditioning for shows. People laugh when I say this, but it’s been years since I’ve had more than a week or two between shows. My life is all music and theatre, and really not much else. I give voice lessons, and offer audition coaching for kids looking to branch out like I did, and that’s pretty much it! I’m your regular theatre nerd!

ANYTHING GOES– remaining shows play at the Pine Hill Middle School -1100 Turnersville Rd. Pine Hill, NJ – Thursday August 4th, Saturday August 6th Tickets $15 Available at the door. For more information about South Jersey Stageworks remaining summer shows “Seussical the Musical” and ”Disney’s The Aristocats” visit: www.southjerseystageworks.com

 

Photos: Zach Taglioli (Billy), Sarah Todd ( Reno Sweeny), Anything Goes Cast  Headshot: Alix Vitarelli. Production Photo Credits: John Jablonowski

South Jersey Spotlight: Sharrott Winery and Singer Nicky Vallee

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Great Wine + Great Music+ the great outdoors = a fun filled event for all!

Sharrot Winery sits on an open hilly 6 acres of fields of grapes. This former apple orchard turned winery in 2005 opened its doors in Blue Anchoe NJ to the publis in 2008. They produce 4,600 cased of wine per year. This family owned vineyard and winery is located in the beautiful pine forests of New Jersey. “Our belief is that great wines start in the vineyard in collaboration with Mother Nature”. Sharrott is honored to be the recipient of several years of  Award winning red (Merlot, Cabernets’) and white (Dry Riesling, Pinots’) wines among their fine selection of wines.

In addition, The Sharrott brings in the fun and food with their “Live Music Series” and Sharrott Wineryonsite culinary vendors. The Sharrott Winery is located at 370 S Egg Harbor Rd (Rt 561) Blue Anchor, NJ (609) 567-9463. Visit their website for more information and to book reservations for wine tours and all their seasonal events at
www.sharrottwinery.com

Speaking of live music, among some of the talent that sets up under the spacious canopy is local singer, musician Nicky Vallee who has become a local seasonal regular and the crowds just love her music. Nicky took some time from her busier than ever schedule to talk with me.

Pati Buehler: How did you get started in performing music?

me42Nicky Vallee: Back when I lived in California, I had actually responded to a
MySpace ad that someone placed for a female vocalist. We met and it seemed to be a good fit so we ended up partnering together as a duo. Subsequently, I performed with a number of other artists over the next several years until I relocated back to NJ. Here, I have worked as a solo artist and with my brother Joe, who plays drums. This is now my third season performing at Sharrott Winery.

PB: What is your musical “style” and who are some of your musical heroes?

NV: I’d have to say my style is singer/songwriter with an emphasis on classic rock and folk-style music. My musical heroes include Stevie Nicks, who is my ultimate muse, and artists like The Eagles, Heart, Beatles, CSNY, Jim Croce, Janis Joplin, and Florence and the Machine.
There are many others. Too many to count, in fact!

PB: You recently married your love of music and helping others through music as a “Certified Music Therapist”. What can you share with us about this wonderful work?

NV: Having the opportunity to combine my love of music with helping others is me24a win-win situation for me. Music therapy provides a targeted healing experience for patients with a variety of illnesses and conditions, and its application is more widely in use now than ever. You can read more about what I do at www.musictherapy.org. I’m excited to be embarking on this exciting professional journey!

PB: What a wonderful opportunity to do what you love to benefit others and I wish you all the best with your second career!

Nicky will play at the Sharrott Winery this Sunday 5/29  from 1-4 and again on Sat. July 9th. Check the Sharrot Winery website often for all their season events.

Photo Credits: Sharrot Winery website – Nicky Vallee

Philly People behind the Curtain: Arden Theater’s Terrence Nolen directs “The Secret Garden

Terry Nolan HeadsjotThere’s no ‘secret’ behind the success of the Arden Theater, located in the heart of Philadelphia’s Old City Neighborhood. Its founders Terrence J. Nolen Arden’s Artistic director, Amy Murphy and Aaron Posner now boast numerous Philly based Barrymore Awards for excellence in theater. With 28 years of producing Award winning productions, The Arden Theater continues to enchant Philly audiences with the stunning “The Secret Garden slotted to open on  May 12th.

I caught up to “Terry” as he’s often is called, deep in rehearsal for one of Broadway’s most beloved family musicals; The Secret Garden.

Pati: I’ve openly admitted to many that I am in love with The Secret Garden; the book, the score and the movie. I’ve only seen one small production of this hauntingly deep beautiful stage production. Terry, what drew you to choose this production?

Terry: The Secret Garden has been on our ‘short list’ for many years and like most I have always been draw in by the score. Over the years when we’ve held auditions a few people will come in and sing a song from the show and I would think “We really should do this show!” Putting together our season last year we wanted to include a musical and we looked over the piece and decided we wanted to do it. It was recently done in concert in New York and well received so we know there is a strong interest in this well deserved piece. It’s also a work that fits well with our talented artists here in Philadelphia.

Pati: That’s for sure! The Secret Garden is a compelling story. Please tell us about the mood and process behind putting this together.

Terry: One of my long time ‘co-conceivers’, Jorge Cousineau and I talked about the story; we both have kids and how that relates to this story. So that helped us to focus on the theme of this little girl Mary (played by Bailey Ryon) , who IMG_3882now has nothing and is brought into this unknown world and how you move on after you’ve experienced the unthinkable. This idea permeates the story of how one grapples with such tragedy. I love working with kids! It reminds me of one of many young people who have come a long way over the years in the arts; Krissy Fraelich, who recently did a Cabaret with us. I’ve known Krissy since she was 11 years old when I directed her in Annie. (Krissy’s now a seasoned actress and mother).   I love curious, talented, adventurous kids who are extraordinary listeners and willing to learn. It’s very compelling to work with terry & Baileythem.

Pati: How rewarding!  Terry, you mentioned this in an interview that we did together years ago. “Our theaters are flexible. We move them around, always remembering that this is a theatrical event and the audience is an essential part of that experience.” I experienced this with your stellar production of Sweeney Todd with Thom Sesma. How are you ‘involving’ your audience for The Secret Garden?

Terry: The scene space is proscenium but the focus is to get people involved with Mary and her journey as she begins to understand her role better and begins to make things happen. The Garden will become very real to everyone through Mary and the music.

After the sudden death of her parents, ten-year-old Mary Lennox is sent to live with an uncle whom she’s never met. Mourning the loss of his own true love, Uncle Archibald is distant and strange. Cold, bleak Misselthwaite Manor, haunted by spirits and secrets of the past, is no place for a little girl. Strong-willed and brave-hearted, Mary finds solace in a locked-up, hidden garden, and with it, a path to rebirth, proving that hope can bloom from the darkest of places. Based on the beloved novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett,The Secret Garden’s heartwarming story and beautiful, soaring ballads make this Tony Award-winning musical a treat for young and old alike!

Pati: One always looks forward with great anticipation of seeing the “Garden”. Can you give us a glimpse of what the Arden’s Garden set will look like?thesecretgarden_1130x350

Terry: “I’m not going to tell you” (laughing). We will of course,finally take you into the garden. Listening to this piece, the music will take you into the garden. What takes place in your imagination takes you into the garden which I think is spectacular. The Secret Garden is a great piece for older kids as well as adults as it features a 10 yr. old boy and girl. I’m very excited for my son, who is 12 to see this. I am confident that this vibrant cast will move the audiences.

Pati: I applaud The Arden Theatre’s commitment to the Philadelphia community; its creative people and to work with the vast number of Philly actors who include Jeff Coon ( who plays Archibald Craven in this production), Ben Dibble, Mary Martello, Scott Greer, just to name a few.  The Arden has been offering apprenticeships and second- to- none educational programs for many years. What’s new and on the horizon in this area?

Terry: Much of our work with children is Arden funded. We give away about 6,000 tickets to kids who could not otherwise come to see a play. We provide workshops before and after productions. Our focus has been to gradually increase the number of kids who have seen productions in assisting them by bringing teaching artists into their schools, which is challenging in these tough economic times. We are so proud of our apprentices who move ahead in this direction. One of which is Raelle Myrick-Hodges, who recently directed our production of “Two Trains”. We take stock in the grads from these apprentice programs by giving them the experience they need to be on their own to become future theater leaders in this region and beyond.

Pati: What a wonderful work you do at the Arden and in the Philadelphia community bringing terrific shows for all to enjoy as well as embrace our young people to experience the process of creating live arts. I look forward to enjoying your “Secret Garden”.

Terry: Thanks Pati

The Secret Garden plays at the Arden Theater- 40 N.2nd St. Phila. Pa 19106 from May 12 through June 19- For tickets and more information www.ardentheatre.org or call 215.922.8900

Photos: Bailey Ryon as Mary Lennox

Photo Credits: Stephen Rapp and Mark Garvin

Interview with Mainstage‘s “Shakespeare Abridged” Director Chris Melohn

3 guys jumping
Three zany actors, headlined by Barrymore Award-winner and Philadelphia favorite Jeffrey Coon, take off on a 90 minute high-speed adventure through all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)….or “The Cmplete wrks of Wilm Shkspeer”!!

Perry-Award winning director, Chris Melohn, directs and performs in this fast-paced romp, joining Coon and Curt Foy. 
Foy was last seen at Mainstage as Lord Capulet in Romeo & Juliet and was recently nominated for ‘Best Actor in a Musical’ by BroadwayWorld.com for his portrayal of Rum Tum Tugger in CATS. Jeff Coon has performed in close to 100 professional productions and worked at most of the area’s theatre companies.

I caught up to Chris prepping to begin rehearsals.Chris Melohn
“I’m delighted to bring Shakespeare to life in this uninhibited, entertaining, irreverent production. The show is so brilliantly structured that is makes Shakespeare aficionados laugh at all the insider humor, but has enough quick changes, improvisation, audience participation, and general antics to make even the most novice of Shakespeare fans guffaw!,” said Melohn about the comical trio.

Pati Buehler: Chris, tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement with the children at Mainstage.

Chris Melohn: I began as a director of a few productions at Mainstage. Then Ed (Ed Fiscella, Mainstage Art. Director), approached me about running their Performing Arts Academy which I also accepted and still currently hold the position of Managing, Artistic, & Education Director. This will be the first show I will perform in here at Mainstage.

PB: What is the appeal and draw to Shakespeare Abridged?

CM: In the past we have produced productions that students read in school (Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Miracle Worker, Romeo & Juliet). This is the first production that is not actually a show that is read, but was voted on by our schools that have attended the matinees in the past. I was very excited they chose this show, because I have a profound love of Shakespeare and this play in particular is a great entry point for students and adults who may be timid about these 37 plays.

PB: You are directing and starring in this. How fun is that? What’s the energy like doing this piece?

CM: I was very clear with the other two actors when I cast them that this would be a collaborative piece. I have collected and worked with the designers to get things going, but once we are rehearsing there are three directors (Jeff, Curt, and myself). The piece was created collaboratively by three friends and I think this process will give the feel and comradery that makes the show move and gives the audience an exciting, dynamic, and hilarious ride!

“Jeff and I met working together in October during the Broadway Theatre of Pitman’s production of Brigadoon. We met and instantly had a mutual infatuation with the way the other approaches their craft. Curt and I have worked together in many capacities,” said Melohn. “The play is written to be performed by three men who are friends putting on a show. I was excited I had the opportunity to put together a group of guys I enjoy working with so much!”

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) plays April 8 and 9, 7:30 p.m., Dennis Flyer Theatre, Camden County College, Blackwood, NJ. Ticket prices are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $12 for students. To purchase, visit www.mainstage.org, or call (855) 936-2467, ext 3.

Photo Credits: Mainstage Center for the Arts and head shot photo ( Chris Melohn) as per Google.com

South Jersey’s Graham Alexander: Starting Young and Going Strong

graham-alexander-promo-1Sam Smith, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus all made a name for themselves; some before they could legally drink a beer. Camden New Jersey’s Graham Alexander owned his own recording studio and office by then.

Graham was in middle school when he formed his band; The Roadrunners, had a NYC and Philly following and was writing and recording music for an independent label at age 14!  In 2008, Graham (19) began his own company which consisted of his studio, production, rehearsal and office facilities in Camden County, NJ. He also went on the road playing alongside artists such as Badfinger, Blood Sweat and Tears, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, America, James Taylor, and Norah Jones. In 2010 and 2011, Graham debuted on Broadway as the lead in Rain in New York City.  In December of 2011, Graham Alexander’s self-titled, full-length album was finally released to worldwide acclaim. Within weeks, the song “Biggest Fan” was featured at #6 on Spotify’s “Top Tracks from 2011.

I caught up with Graham who also performs at The Vault, in Berlin, NJ to pick his brain about his life, his career and his passion for performing.

Pati Buehler: Obviously you knew at a very young age what you wanted to do with your life. Who or what was a big influence on you to pursue a career in music and the music industry?

Graham Alexander: Ummmmm, I’d say it was just a matter of music happened to interest me at a time where I had very little else going for me. My parents had recently gone through a bad divorce and what struck me was music and then I happened to find a guitar and that was it. It was all over and I never really questioned myself after that. I had seen it could be a job or career through several sources. My grandmother was a big band singer, my father a bassist/producer/songwriter/singer. So those things reassured me that it was possible I would assume.

At 20, Graham began writing and recording his first full-length studio album in 2009. His debut album was released December 6, 2011 and, weeks after, his song “Biggest Fan” was featured on Spotify’s “Top Tracks of 2011 – Picked by Users” playlist.

PB: Tell us about your music, your band and what you hope people will walk away with about Graham Alexander through his music.

GA: Well, I’d say the music strives for honesty across all forms. I don’t write songs for the sake of writing songs.   I kind of just write to how I’m feeling or what I’m seeing. So above all,  ideally I’d like listeners to walk away from hearing Graham Alexander music with the feeling that they’ve just heard something that someday might be considered “Classic”  and ideally transformative or reaffirming of their own feelings as a listener.  In the studio, I play and produce a large amount of the material heard on both of my long playing releases, however I do have long time members of my touring band or great musician friends that play on particular songs and occasionally I have been known to favor elements like a string section,  horn section,  or orchestra.  Music made by many people has an entirely different feel than that made by just 1 however, both I feel can have extremely satisfying results.

Those who have lived in South Jersey since childhood will remember the Camden thevault-nipper-hiresskyline, the “RCA Victor” building and that iconic photo of the little dog and the ‘talking machine’ high on its side. Victor Talking Machine Co. revives and returns to Camden County in the town of Berlin, NJ with Graham Alexander CEO of Radio Corporation of America, Inc. recently announcing the revival of Victor Talking Machine Co. This recording facility, Victor Records Studio A in Haddonfield, N.J. and in Berlin, N.J., is the official label headquarters, archive, historic vault, and intimate performing arts center known collectively as “The Vault”- the firm’s headquarters.  Graham performs not only his music, but that of other artists including the Beatles at the newly formed venue.

 PB: Having thoroughly enjoyed your “Lennon Live” performance and by the way the band is awesome, tell us about your passion with the Beatles music.

mccartney-1GA: I’d say my passion is for all music. Really I care more about the songwriting than anything else and it just so happens two of the greatest songwriters of all time were in the same band (and another in Harrison really).  I’m not actually the biggest fan of 60s sounds (oddly). Certain acts that came in with bands “like” the Stones or Beatles really embraced a cartoonish version of what music in 1965 sounded like (I’m looking at you *the association*). That being said, thanks for the compliment! But that show isn’t actually my band but rather a show the venue puts on from time to time. Think of it like a dinner theatre ….but with Lennon music, I suppose! 😀

 PB: Any musical hero’s or heroines?

GA: Virtually anyone who’s doing it in the year 2016. For that matter: anyone that has ever made music I have tremendous respect for – even if I’m not a listener of their music. Victor Records (the record company that releases my music and is also the record company that I operate) has a back catalog of lots of music- of all kinds of madness. Hearing someone’s story coupled with their music – it’s hard not to love so much when you’ve heard so much.  I love music in general- some songs I listen to are made by artists like: Taylor Swift, The Beatles, Tupac, Glenn Miller, The Philly Pops, U2, Radiohead, George Michael, Prince, Led Zeppelin, Led Belly, The Rolling Stones, Maroon 5, Reeve (Carney), The Neptunes, Caruso, Cole Porter, George & Ira Gershwin, anything but Lou Reed really. 

PB: Graham, your talent and drive is a fine example for young artists and entrepreneurs. Your enthusiasm for music and the music industry at such a young age is remarkable. Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?

GA: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years”? Sounds like a song! In ten years… I can’t call where I’ll be in 10 minutes, but if God has any mercy the rapture will have happened and I’ll be on earth looking for people to band together with. No. No. No. I’m sorry; I’m pacing back and forth while writing this. In ten years ideally I’ll be with tons of other musicians and artists enjoying the new music industry as it more properly supports content creators and artists having fought a long battle between 2016 and 2026.

Graham released his second album, Repeat Deceiver, through the revived Victor Talking Machine Co. label in 2014.

“The Music of McCartney” at the Vault

vault-performers-6327Having enjoyed Graham’s “Lennon Live” this past November at the Vault, we couldn’t miss his “Music of McCartney on Jan. 9, 2016.  Once again this young man proves to be a tour de force when it comes to his presentation and arrangements of composers Lennon and McCartney.  Graham and the incredible band open with “Band on The Run”. From there they take the journey presenting  some of McCartney’s most recognized and beloved songs such as  “Jets”, “Hello/Goodbye”, “Lady Madonna”, “I Saw Her Standing There”.  Alexander takes time to share some nostalgia about McCartney such as the fact that Lennon was favored over McCartney by the press for some unexplained reason and that McCartney played both right and left handed guitars. Incidentally so does Graham Alexander as he jokes as to this being the reason he was cast to play and sing the role of McCartney on Broadway in “RAIN” at age 22, I should add.

 

Alexander’s interpretation of these iconic songwriters is mind- boggling similar to the actual artists, yet his personal reflections seem to joyfully jump out as natural as if he’s sang them forever. His “Blackbird” and “Bluebird”  beautifully sung and bearing a striking similarity to McCartney, quieted this most appreciative crowd. There are a few more reflective moments. He shares a bit about the ‘opposite bookend” relationship between Lennon and McCartney and Paul’s acknowledgement of Lennon’s passing with a heartfelt rarely performed song “Here Today” written by Paul in 1982 about the passing of his friend and co-collaborator of such legendary music. “Jets” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” McCartney’s later solo songs were well sung as well as standout rocking version of “Live or Let Die” and finishing up with the always grande Beatles finale “Hey Jude”.

The Vault in Berlin NJ has become ‘the’ hot spot in a few short months for friends and fans.  Graham Alexander is at the helm of the Victor Records Studio, welcoming all to enjoy the intimate space where great performances seem to be a monthly event.

For more information about The Vault visit www.victorrecords.com .  For more about Graham Alexander visit www.grahamalexandermusic.com

Interview with Deana Martin –The dynamic daughter of Dean Martin

21tjkXd_gvZNRt-2NqatI9Yk2I7fimObLXlW3dLVkvw,YKxTsbwsmE69xpbjgvTVZladJhF64H0dnt83-CRVOwk,FoN16lPQfvE7uHlujPLePuhIkm4emcj8ukQhJeb1m7EThere have been many sons and daughters of famous show business people who have had a measure of success in that same business, but Deana Martin has literally guided her life and diverse career in a way that any father would be not only proud but astounded!

Her bio says it all … It’s easy to see where Deana gets her passion for performing. Her father is among the world’s most iconic entertainers and has left a lasting legacy treasured by his family, friends and fans. As chronicled in her best-selling book, Memories Are Made of This-Dean Martin Through His Daughters Eyes. In addition to her acting and recording, Deana is a savvy businesswoman whose interest in health and fitness grew into the successful Bodies By Deana; A company, which spawned the top-selling workout video “The Deana Martin Total Body Workout.” She’s also a licensed pilot, radio show host, noted philanthropist and respected entrepreneur. Among the projects she’s most passionate about these days are seeing her book become a movie.

After 12 years of interviewing several artists, creators, stage actors I am thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with this amazing woman prior to her concert at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

Pati Buehler: Deana, thank you so much for this great chance to talk with you. I think many would like to know what was is like to grow up in an environment with so many celebrities in your world?

Deana: Thank you Pati. It’s a pleasure to “chat” with you. Growing up in a Star 3RAiwMs3gXAefMJBqx4dpuoHGDpFiDhEjWkR67aySDgStudded environment with the “A team” of singers, writers, actors, musicians, producers and directors was awesome. I had the opportunity to watch and learn from the very best. Of course having Dean Martin as a father was the best training anyone could possible wish for.

Pati Buehler: Your father was undoubtedly a big influence in your life. You are quoted as saying, “My dad would always say ‘Deana, when you dream, dream big, because dreams do come true. There’s nothing you can’t do honey if you really set your mind to it and work hard.’ And that’s exactly what I do, because knowing that he believed in me has always given me the strength and determination to shoot for the moon”. I’m sure there were many others that affected your decision to perform rather than ‘fly planes or enjoy the life of the CEO of your company!” LOL! Who/what else helped you fulfill your dreams?

Deana: I truly believe is in my DNA. I was born a performer and will continue to sing, dance and entertain until they get the hook.

Pati Buehler: You received a formal education from Dartington College of Arts in the United Kingdom. There are a lot of aspiring young actors who may read this, how important was this part of your journey?

Deana: Education and experience is of the utmost importance. Learning your craft from the inside out, studying the masters and greats from Shakespeare to Spielberg. Young people should immerse themselves in all aspects of the arts. Great actors should be able to act, sing and dance.

When her father told her to “shoot for the Moon” well, she theatrically did with the release of the album “Destination Moon”. Destination Moon was produced by Deana’s husband John Griffeth, and they recorded the vocals in Studio A at the legendary Capitol Records in Los Angeles where her father recorded many of his best-loved hits. “You can feel the electricity in the air the moment you walk in,” Deana says. “I just feel cloaked with the energy of the great artists that recorded there before me. You can hear their voices as you walk down the hallways lined with huge black & white photographs. It gives me goose bumps walking by my dad, Peggy Lee, Bobby Darin and Uncle Frank [Sinatra]. They’re all there. The first studio you come to is Studio A and that’s where everyone loves to record. When I was a very young girl, I remember sitting in Studio A with my mom, watching my dad record “Memories Are Made of This,” which became his first very #1 hit. Those are memories indeed that I will never forget.”

-7wR0xa8cPuWzUDRGbp3tusza-vLqo9GItkVbYfvycQPati Buehler: Deana, though I’m sure your father is still the catalyst of your passion, you certainly did step out of your father’s footsteps. Please tell us what exciting projects are in the makings?

Deana: I’m currently working on my fifth studio album. We are making my book “Memories Are Made Of This: Dean Martin Through His Daughter’s Eyes“ into a film. Bonnie Hunt is writing the screenplay and directing. Joe Mantegna and Jeniffer Love Hewitt will be staring in the film. We also have a documentary of my father in the works for his 100th birthday June 7th 2017.

Pati Buehler: Before I let you go I will admit two things; like many I had a huge crush on Dean Martin as a child and even got a bit smitten as a teen with Dino during the Dino, Desi & Billy era! Consider me a new found admirer of you and your incredible talent. Guess that about covers the entire Martin family! LOL! Please keep setting the standard of great musical performances. Wishing you continued good health, happiness and success. Thank you for chatting with me.

Deana: Pati, thank you for chatting with me. And by the way, I think Dino, Desi & Billy were just too cute for words!

Pati Buehler: Thanks so much and I am so looking forward to enjoying your show!

“Deana Martin Live in Concert” with the Deana Martin Band will play at the Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia,Pa on Saturday October 10th at 8:pm. for tickets visit www.kimmelcenter.org or Call 215.893.1999

Please visit Deana at www.deanamartin.com